Polenta is a dish, not an ingredient, from Northern Italy. It refers to a porridge or mush now made from coarsely ground. Polenta is such a simple dish , so filling:served with cheese, tomato sauce, meat.

Caveman certainly had to feed himself with cereals that he used to grind roughly between two stones and cook in boiling water. In Roman times the polenta was called with a name very similar to ours, “pultem”. It was made from a cereal similar to wheat, harder: spelt, buckwheat, millet, sorghum or panic. Only after Cristoforo Colombo found those golden grains, “a kind of wheat called mahis” in 1492, we will begin to speak of “mais”/corn.

Maize was then called  Turkish corn. But why “Turkish”?

In the early 1500s, the common language called “Turkish” all that was foreign. No wonder, if corn was called that: it came from the other part of the world.Another hypothesis is instead inclined to believe that corn had already arrived in Europe from the East with the name Turkish for the simple reason that the Persians, who cultivated and consumed it, lived under the dominion of the Turcomans

 But then was  American or Persian, the corn or maize used for the first time for Friulian or Venetian polenta?

A hand stirring the Polenta

Anyway, the polenta solved enormous food problems of many poor populations. The fact is that the poorest of the polenta becomes an extraordinary and complete food when the usual simple condiments (sausages, beans, grated cheese, etc.) are added to it, making dishes which please gourmets

.POLENTA (Basic recipe)Servings 12

500 grams polenta flour/regular medium or coarsely-ground cornmeal  

2 litres water

2 tbsp. rock salt

A machine stirring the polenta

Heat the water and when it boils pour the salt in it and the flour slowly, beating it with a whisk to prevent it going lumpy. Continue mixing with a wooden spoon, until it starts to boil again. Then continue mixing at a moderate heat for about 45 minutes. When the polenta comes away from the sides of the pot, it is ready. Leave it aside for a few minutes and then use it according to your favourite recipe.

The quantities indicated are for a traditional polenta , which is poured onto a particular board called ” tafferia” or into a mould. If you want a more solid polenta, use less water. If you want a thinner polenta, use more water.

Polenta can be served as it is, next to some cheese or preparing a dish: Polenta pasticciata

Polenta pasticcia with sauce and cheese

Turn the polenta upside-down onto a plate and leave to cool.

Slice it. Butter the inside of an oven dish, place a layer of polenta, a layer of sauce, or a layer of fontina, or mozzarella, then a layer of polenta and a layer of the other ingredients.

Polenta pasticciata with mozzarella and prosciutto

 Place in the oven at 190°C for 30 minutes. Serve it warm. It’s an extra filling dish!